Strengthening the intellectual foundation for our profession of arms.
May 4th, 2017 by David Caligari
If our forces in action are to have utility, we need to organise our standing forces to reflect the change in paradigm and accommodate the need to form an appropriate force for each operation.
General Sir Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force
The modularisation of Army to form bespoke Task Forces is worth exploring against the future operating environment.
Imagine if you will, the year 2030 – a small island has erupted in violence and its government has invited Australia to keep the peace under a United Nation’s mandate. The Army provides three Combat Teams and a Battalion headquarters. The Brigade Commander force assigns the three most ‘Ready’ companies—already certified—to join the Task Force. The Brigade Commander then forms the Task Force headquarters and fills it with suitable staff from within the Brigade and unit headquarters.
This deploying organisation is unique; it bears no single unit name and comprises forces accustomed to forming independent elements.
The Australian Army has a history of strong unit identities. This is unmistakable as the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment prepares for one of its largest reunions for FSB Coral and Somalia in 2018.
However, today’s Army functions in two distinct ways: the Raise, Train, Sustain (RTS) force (central to our historical foundation) and the deployed force. In the barracks, units often train as units, yet invariably they find themselves in a uniquely task organised force when deployed. Has this created cognitive instability about force identity and structure?
RTS and deployed force structures
In many ways, the Army has progressed towards RTS efficiencies akin to modern businesses, by aggregating niche skills, such as Catering and Transport, into specialised groups. These groups are then distributed to ‘user units’ as required. This creates a sustainable resource pool, enabling prioritised tasking in a resource-constrained environment and leveraging technology to best coordinate resources.
Plan Beersheba has modified the three combat brigades into mirror images of each other. The importance of being efficient in assigning force elements is a fundamental focus.
At the tactical level, key force elements are husbanded, such as medical personnel, as they cannot be economically distributed across the force. This efficiency is made possible by technology—now available to headquarters of all levels—to coordinate and manage the commitments of soldiers.
However, these structural changes have not been replicated for manoeuvre units, particularly infantry and armour elements. Manoeuvre units are considered the fighting element while support units are those that facilitate the fighting, like transport and logistics units. This leads to a mismatch between support and manoeuvre capabilities, and trains unit level headquarters to consider supporting capabilities separately to their own forces.
Amphibious force structures
The introduction of the amphibious capability—which is comprised of individual elements from across the Australian Defence Force (ADF)—may provide a glimpse of the evolution of RTS force structures. The amphibious force comprises four key components: the pre-landing force, the ground combat element, the logistics combat element, and the rotary wing element.
These components range in size from an Amphibious Ready Element (ARE) of several hundred, to an Amphibious Ready Group of several thousand. The amphibious force is a combined arms organisation with force elements from multiple brigades. They are also a joint force, taking from across multiple services.
The modular construct of the amphibious force was exemplified in the March 2016 deployment of the ARE to Fiji for a humanitarian mission. The deployed force consisted of a headquarters and platoons from the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, as well as elements from the 7th, 16th and 17th Brigades.
Future force structures – challenges
Army’s recently published Logistics Concept of Operations lays the foundations for the next tranche of aggregation within Army. This concept articulates that many critical support trades are now ‘brigaded’—grouped together to provide a nucleus of elements and loaned to manoeuvre units in barracks.
While some of these changes are being reconsidered, the reality is that Army may not contain enough of these critical assets to equip the entire force. This is likely to become a more pressing issue as key assets like armour are replaced with more capable platforms.
Of interest, the findings of the First Principles Review in 2015 outlined the resistance towards streamlining the Army’s force structure was primarily a cultural one.
Future force structures – ideas
Is there now the potential for a new wave of efficiency creation with the aggregation and centralisation of manoeuvre capabilities to a single capability pool?
Future manoeuvre units could comprise companies held within a single Corps-specific unit. This scales up the functional ‘brick’ system of the Army—the case for the smallest component of the Army being a ‘brick’ of four soldiers. The company becomes the standard functional grouping and is force assigned to a headquarters for a deployment or exercise.
The universal application of Army’s deployment model to the barracks would increase the efficiencies in creating Task Forces that are highly flexible and provide tailored options with a modular force. The formation headquarters gains critical importance in its task to centrally select staff to form the headquarters to manage the task force—and leverage the RTS Commanding Officers as Task Force commander candidates.
The Army is a resource-conscious and highly specialised provider of lethal force for Army’s mission to prepare land forces for war. The opportunity to further enhance resource usage is now possible. Through available technology, we can do more with less, and provide better solutions. The current force structure resembles Cold War formations discussed by General Smith and highlights their increasing irrelevance against the future operating environment.
About the author
David Caligari is an Infantry Officer posted to the School of Infantry.
 Smith, Rupert. “The utility of force.” The art of war in the modern world (2006), p. 297.
Grounded Curiosity is a platform to spark debate, focused on junior commanders. The views expressed do not reflect any official position or that of any of the author’s employers – see more here.